Love and Loving

 Love is the evidence for God’s presence in our life.  1 John 4:7: “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”  Love is, therefore, the standard for the Christian life.  1 John 4:8: “Whoever does not love does not know God.”  Bam! He presses the point in v. 19  “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” Bam! John puts it on the bottom shelf, let me paraphrase: If you have been born of God, you have, at the very least, a kernel of love in your heart. God’s seed is in you. And the evidence that seed of God’s love is in you is that you become a loving person. 1 John 4:12(NIV)  If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:16 NIV) Whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in him.

There is no doubt about it the standard for Christian living is love.“If I speak with the tongues of men and angels…If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2 NIV)

To grow as Christians our first priority needs to be to grow in love.  John says, 1 John 4:20 “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen”. Love sets the standard for Christian living.

Some believe the Christian life consists exclusively of believing certain facts to be true. If you believe A, B, and C, then you’re saved.  But that can’t be all there is to it, because James says that the demons also believe. There’s a relational component to the gospel—that’s the essential, non-negotiable part. Being a Christian comes down to being in a relationship—a relationship built on love, built on facts. Knowing, understanding and believing the facts of the gospel is vitally important, but it does not replace love. They lead us to Jesus and we fall in love with Him. Then because we love God we love others. John said, 1:John 4:21 (NIV) “Whoever loves God must also love his brother”. I like the way that verse in put in The Message: “The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both”.

The natural question once we accept love as the standard for the Christian life  is “How? How do we love others?”  In the previous chapter John gave us this guideline: 1 John 3:18 “My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love”. [The Message] The NIV puts it well ” let us love with actions and in truth.”  Love is expressed in what we do. We love people by doing good for them. We love people by helping them.

We live in a time when hating your enemies has never been more fashionable. In the political realm, it is generally considered acceptable to refer to a candidate as “evil in every sense of the word.” The idea is not just to challenge a candidate’s policies and opinions, the idea is to assassinate the candidate’s character. The motivation is nothing short of hatred; in the political realm, this sort of hatred scares me.

In the religious realm, in certain circles, it has become acceptable to ridicule and lampoon those who have a different faith expression than ours. In many places it’s considered OK to look at other expressions of faith with sneering condescension. A while back I heard a man refer to a church as “one of those seeker-sensitive atrocities.” This was a congregation of God’s precious people he was referring to. And then I’ve heard seeker-sensitive pastors put down traditional churches and I’ve heard evangelical leaders put down Pentecostal churches and I’ve heard Pentecostals put down anyone who is not Pentecostal and … Enough! Christians are supposed to love one another. This means, at the very least, being civil to one another. And it means, at best, that we look for opportunities to do good for them. We can disagree with others theologically or politically—we can even debate with them—without humiliating them. And if we do good for that person, we become more complete in our love for God. God sets the standard for True Love. True Love sets the standard for Christian living.  Christian living shows the love of God to the world.

The logical question is: How are we doing?  Are we making God visible or invisible to those around us? 

We Christians don’t have a great reputation these days. Sometimes it’s because our message is misunderstood. Sometimes it’s because it isn’t. I think we have been guilty of emphasizing the wrong things. Sometimes we’re known only for what we’re against. Sometimes we have a tendency to major on minor issues. In the early days of his ministry, Billy Graham used to preach against communism. It wasn’t long before he realized that he had a much more important message to emphasize, one that transcended political ideologies and spoke to the deepest needs of humans everywhere. He made the love of God his standard and became the most known preacher of the 20th Century.

We need to direct our message to what’s most important. I remember hearing sermons when I was a teenager against bell-bottoms, shaggy hair, and rock music. In those days some Christians and some churches defined themselves by their opposition to the youth culture.

Today there are some who define themselves by being at war with the culture. We are at war, but not with people: “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness in this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12 KJV)

We are not at war with people. We need to get aggressive about showing people that we love them so that they will know that there is a God who loves them, too.  Then maybe we’ll be able to tell them what it is about their world that we’re against.

I’m against a lot of things. Certain TV shows. Certain movies. Certain songs. Certain political ideas. Certain economic theories. Certain sociological constructs. Certain behavioral patterns. Certain theological positions. Certain doctrinal views. Certain religious rituals. I’m against a lot of things! I could preach against one of them every week of the year and still not cover them all. But that’s not what defines me and it’s not what should define the church. Too many people think taking a stand means being against something. I want to take a stand for Jesus. I want to take a stand for loving others. In order for us to make a difference in our culture, we must love the people of the world as God so loved them that He sent His only begotten Son to save them.

The world’s idea of love is “I will love you as long as it’s easy, convenient, and it benefits me.” God’s idea of love is “I will love you because I am love, and because you are precious and valuable to me.” Imagine the difference we could make if the world perceived the love of God as our message.

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